New mothers face many challenges in the days and weeks following the birth of their child. Any parent will know most of them well with lack of sleep being a primary one. But many women are also at risk for postpartum preeclampsia.
Preeclampsia is a condition that can affect a woman at any time during pregnancy and the days that follow. It’s characterised by high blood pressure and extreme swelling.
Many symptoms appear as “normal” pregnancy symptoms and some are not felt at all – like high blood pressure. The only way to ensure at-risk women remain healthy and receive treatment (if necessary) is for them to attend follow up visits with their midwife or GP. In many countries, that just doesn’t happen often enough.
A recent study performed by the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania examined how SMS messaging could help the situation. It turns out in the US, many mothers do not go to their follow up visits. The numbers differ, but somewhere between 70% and “less than half” just simply give birth and don’t visit their doctor again within the next year.
The Penn study decided to take at-risk women and offer them SMS reminders to take their blood pressure (the key indicator for preeclampsia) at home, then text back the results to their doctor.
Before leaving the hospital the women were given blood pressure monitoring equipment. Then they received SMS reminders to check their blood pressure for seven days following their discharge from the hospital.
The medical staff would review the numbers sent in by the women. If the numbers indicated a rise in blood pressure that was concerning, the woman would receive an SMS message back with instructions. She may be asked to take the numbers again, be directed to make an appointment, or to seek immediate care.
The results of the study were that 65% of the women continued to monitor their blood pressure and send in values for at least five of the seven days. Two women were identified as needing oral medications to control their increasing blood pressure.
Due to the small sample size (only 32 women), senior author of the study Sindhu Srinivas said, “Further studies are necessary to determine the widespread efficacy of adopting telemedicine platforms for obstetrics care, but by all indications, it could become a cost-conscious way to improve care for patients, allowing them the convenience of staying home and lowering their risks of readmissions or complications”.
Another study, this time in Argentina in 2012, included a survey of pregnant women. They were asked whether or not they would like to receive SMS messages about antenatal care and other pregnancy topics.
An overwhelming number of the women, 96%, said they would like to receive the messages via SMS. The average travel time to their health care provider was 43 or 57 minutes (to doctor and hospital respectively). The messages could provide valuable information about when they should seek care given their distance from the medical facilities.
The study concluded at the time, though, that SMS messaging wasn’t practical because not very many women had mobile phones. But according to eMarketer, mobile penetration in Argentina rose to just over 70% in 2015, much higher than 2012. SMS messages and reminders for pregnant women and mothers of new-borns is likely very practical at this point.
These are just two examples of how SMS messaging can be used to help improve the health of women. Extrapolating from these, you can see how it’d be useful in almost any health situation where following up with a patient in a timely fashion is crucial. This could be post-surgery, injury recovery, or illness convalescing where a trip to the GP may not be easy or practical.
The future of healthcare around the world probably includes some amount of interaction via SMS messaging. It’s a tool that can give both doctors and patients the ability to communicate and stay healthy.